Saturday, April 3, 2010

To Thine Self Be True -- Reflections on "Fantastic Mr. Fox"

"I'm a wild animal," Mr. Fox tells Mrs. Fox somewhere near the end of Wes Anderson's amazing adaptation of Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox. There is so much irony, so much identification, and so much truth in these words that I had to stop laughing for a moment to consider what I had just heard.

I'm a wild animal.

Suddenly I found myself transported to an earlier time, during my failed marriage, throwing away things important to me that were upsetting the wife. Years were spent denying my true nature in order to make someone else happier; I caged the inner animal because of someone else's fear of it. I wanted to keep peace and make good of the order, and therefore denied myself the quest for happiness.

What was the consequence? Bitterness? Heartbreak? Rebellion? Absolutely.

Wes Anderson's adaptation of Mr. Fox is a whimsical take on Dahl's tale, but does something with it that Mr. Dahl never did: he brought existentialism. An existentialist kids' film? Holy shit, it CAN exist!

Mr. Fox opens with the husband and wife doing what foxes do best -- poaching. When Mr. Fox discovers that his wife is knocked up, he agrees to put aside his life of crime and becomes a newpaper columnist that no one seems to read. He seems listless and unfulfilled, and decides he wants to move out of the hole they're in to a much nicer tree that just so happens to be adjacent to three of the most plentiful farms a fox could lay eyes on, belonging to farmers Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. Mr. Fox can't handle repressing his inner animal for long and begins plotting nightly raids of the farms. His exploits draw the ire of the farmers, who, led by the insidious Bean, begin going to great lengths to take out Mr. Fox. The Foxs' and others in the local community have to dig deeper and deeper into the earth in order to make their escape and avoid certain doom.

Anderson uses this digging as a metaphor for the depths Mr. Fox has to plumb within his own soul before he can figure out a way to handle the evil farmers once and for all. At first, Fox comes across as able, witty, stubborn, and vain, but the deeper the animals go, the more we get to the core of his character, and what we find there is surprising, enlightening, and rewarding.

To find all of this in a childrens' film -- not made by Pixar -- is pretty amazing and wonderful. Wes Anderson, whose previous films include the awesome Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, has made his playground the world of quirky, dysfunctional families, and here he finds the perfect setting to explore his interests. It seems that using the stop-motion animation technique has liberated him. Personally, I've never seen a film like this before. The character's movements are so individual, their clothing so lifelike that the movie quickly sucks you into its storybook world.

Fantastic Mr. Fox is delightful, charming, and -- above all else -- thought-inspiring. The kids will love it, and so will you. Check it out!

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